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A Root Cause G

ood news came to Nigeria in December 2011—that’s when

three new cassava varieties, with the highest vitamin A content to date, were launched. According to research- ers, these new varieties could provide Nigeria’s children and women with 25 percent of their daily vitamin A needs.

And they need the help: about 30 per- cent of the country’s children younger than five years old and 20 percent of its pregnant women suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which can have devastating consequences, especially for children— from increased risk of illness and disease to impaired vision, blindness, and even death.

Te vitamin A cassava is a happy union between a yellow Brazilian type with high levels of beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A in the body) and

More nutritious cassava makes its debut

NIGERIA Yellow cassava is separated from white varieties for processing.

© 2010 HarvestPlus

white African varieties that have virtu- ally no beta-carotene. After screening nearly 100,000 cassava seedlings a year for 10 years, plant breeders, together with farmers, tested the most promising plants in 13 states across Nigeria. Tree selections rose to the top.

How did researchers come to focus on this fat, fleshy root crop? Since it’s eaten daily in Nigeria by poor and rich alike, researchers realized it was an ideal vehicle to provide more vitamin A in the Nigerian diet.

More than 8 million farmers already grow cassava, which is virus resistant and high yielding. A program is now in place to deliver the new varieties to 50,000 of these farmers in 2013, says Paul Ilona, a cassava breeder who is the Nigeria country manager for HarvestP- lus, which, along with the International

Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the National Root Crop Research Institute of Nigeria, has supported the work.

By putting vitamin A cassava into the hands of farmers, this ambitious pro- gram, with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, aims to get this nutritious variety onto the tables of millions of Nigerians. Te crop will likely spread as farmers save stem cuttings and share them with their neighbors, as they have always done. “By mid-2014,” says Ilona, “we’re optimistic that farmers will be growing and feeding vitamin A cassava to their families, reaching as many as 150,000 people.”

Tere is more to come: researchers are already at work breeding cassava variet- ies with enough vitamin A to provide up to half of the daily needs of women and children. – Yassir Islam & Andrea Pedolsky


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